Governance and Accounting for the Management of Ecological Systems (GAMES)

The University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, the Luc Hoffmann Institute, and WWF have come together to develop new approaches and tools to help create systems of good governance of nature and biodiversity around the world.

The challenge – Incorporating natural capital into large-scale resource and land-use decisions

Natural capital, commonly defined as ‘the stock of renewable and non-renewable natural resources, (e.g. plants, animals, air water, soils, minerals) that combine to yield a flow of benefits to people, is a relatively new area for conservation research and practice. By recognizing and revealing how nature contributes to human wellbeing, natural capital approaches aim at influencing decision-making, action, policy, investment and business interventions in order to improve biodiversity protection.

This agenda has led over the past two decades to the development of innovative ways to assess and value biodiversity and ecosystem services. These include biophysical, economic and qualitative information systems at different levels:

  • Natural capital/ecosystem accounting at the scale of nations (e.g. the World Bank WAVES programme; the Inclusive Wealth Report);
  • Biodiversity and ecosystem services mapping, modelling and valuation tools at the scale of the collective management of local natural resources (e.g. the InVEST tool created by the Natural Capital Project, and the TESSA tool developed by Cambridge Conservation Initiative partners).
  • Biodiversity and ecosystem services accounting at the level of individual organizations, businesses and economic sectors (e.g. the development of the Natural Capital Protocol, and Environmental Profit and Loss accounts by companies such as Kering);

There is emerging evidence of success in using these approaches and tools to inform decision-making in one-off case studies, but mostly at small scales and under favourable conditions. Incorporating natural capital into resource and land-use decisions and management practices systematically, at larger scales, remains elusive.

Responding to this challenge requires refining our understanding of the complex natural resource governance and accountability systems in which these tools are mobilized, while at the same time creating new linkages between private and public, national and local approaches to natural capital accounting and management.

Building on inter-disciplinary and social science research, this project seeks to develop and experiment with both conceptual and practical methods, tools and frameworks that contribute to the scaling up and long-term effective governance of natural capital in multiple places and contexts.

The response – create linkages among natural capital accounting systems across levels, sectors and scales

This project aims to improve the capacity of multiple actors to base their decisions, actions, investment choices and reciprocal commitments on their role in improving ecological quality and societal wellbeing.

To achieve this goal, the project’s hypothesis is that three complementary steps are required:

  1. Developing context diagnostic methods to enrich understanding of the complex institutional, political and organizational dimensions of governance contexts in which ecosystem and natural capital assessment takes place.
  2. Developing innovative methods and tools for ‘accounting for the management of ecosystems’ to support the shared governance of natural capital among multiple organizations in specific contexts.
  3. Developing a framework for ‘private to public accounting for the governance of natural capital’ to create linkages among natural capital accounting systems across levels, sectors and scales.    .

Research outputs

The project partners propose a combination of different methods to test and co-develop the project’s work agenda, in regular interaction with field practitioners and by building bridges between conceptual development and real-world experimentations:

  • Desktop research and drafting of background reports introducing the frameworks and tools
  • Expert dialogue and co-design working groups gathering academics and field practitioners
  • Study of field contexts and experimentation using new approaches
  • Action-research in support of specific interventions
  • Development of capacity building and training materials to share the new methods with a wider audience of natural capital practitioners
  • Scoping, and developing new natural capital governance support tools
  • Academic publications and organization of conferences and stakeholder dialogue on these tools and approaches

These nascent methods and tools will be field-tested and co-developed with WWF in real decision-making contexts around the world. Their aim is to equip WWF staff to better understand the contexts in which they work and to create systems of shared accountability for ecosystem governance. The project also expects to develop new academic collaborations and other partnerships to advance this agenda.

The engagement

In addition to the core Project Leadership team, an advisory group is engaged in supporting strategic level decision-making for research design and implementation, and is composed of members of WWF, the Luc Hoffmann Institute, the Natural Capital Project and academics. To ensure that the project’s research results support WWF field interventions, a wider stakeholder group is composed of a broader group of interested WWF staff

Project Leadership

Clément Feger (post-doctoral Research Associate, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute), Bhaskar Vira (Director, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and Reader in Political Economy at the Department of Geography), Emily McKenzie (Chief Adviser, WWF US and UK), Louise Gallagher (Research Lead, Luc Hoffmann Institute) and Laurent Mermet (Professor, AgroParisTech)

Main image: © Juergen Freund

Alejandro GuizarGovernance and Accounting for the Management of Ecological Systems (GAMES)